Animated films are a long, arduous process.
But when the animation is comprised entirely of oil paintings, recreated in the style of one of the world’s most celebrated artists, it’s a little bit harder. It took 125 painters six years, 65,000 frames, and 1,000 canvases to take the world’s first painted feature film based on Vincent van Gogh from conception, to completion.
But because we live in a world where funding for a Baywatch film is a no-brainer, yet putting some money behind a mind-blowing, world-first project such isn’t guaranteed to set records at the box-office, the film almost didn’t happen in the first place.
Directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman spoke to ArtNet of the uphill slog trying to sell the idea on Loving Vincent, saying financiers were sceptical on the film’s ability to be a success and doubted it could get made in the proposed two years (it did). “They wanted numbers and information about other films that had been done this way,” Kobiela said. “But since no one has ever done this kind of film, we didn’t have any numbers.” But thanks to some “crazy rich individuals who love Vincent and took a gamble” the film did get made, and for the modest sum of $5 million USD (just for comparison’s sake, Baywatch cost $69 million).
It’s almost incomprehensible as to how Loving Vincent was made. First, it was shot as a live-action film, then painted over frame-by-frame by a team of 125 artists. Each artist was carefully selected for their skills in being able to reproduce work that stayed as authentic as possible to work of Van Gogh, whose style was defined by broken brushwork and experimental colour palettes.
Each canvas was repainted around 76 times each to create movement within the film, and each second of the film is equivalent to 12 frames. The film features some of van Gogh’s most renowned works, such as Van Gogh Self-Portrait, Cafe Terrace at Night, Portrait of Dr. Gachet, and Bedroom in Arles.
Kobiela spent a lot of time reading and re-reading the letters of van Gogh, and having a similar experience with depression, found they resonated strongly with her. When the idea for the film finally came about, she found herself writing many different scripts from varied points within the artist’s life, but it was the script from his final days that stuck.
Instead of Loving Vincent following a historically accurate story arc, the movie plays out like a murder mystery surrounding the last days of van Gogh’s life. Though it’s a given that it was the tormented artist who shot himself in the stomach with a revolver while painting out in the fields, a controversial biography released in 2011 speculated that homicide was a more likely result of his death.